KBS says if TV license fees are collected separately public broadcasting business will 'face crisis'

A press conference is held at KBS Art Hall in Yeongdeungpo District, southern Seoul, on Thursday. [YONHAP]

If television license fees are collected separately as the current administration is proposing, it could negatively impact broadcasting, the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) expressed Thursday.

KBS is the national broadcaster of Korea and collects television license fees from Korean citizens who own televisions connected to a network in their homes.

On March 9, the presidential office proposed an amendment to current laws regarding the collecting of television license fees. Currently, television license fees for KBS are collected together with electricity bills by the Korea Gas Corporation, a method that began in 1994. The presidential office conducted a survey on the matter and the results were that 96.5 percent of voters agreed to separating television license fees from electricity bills.

KBS officials expressed their concerns regarding the proposal to split the two payments during a press conference Thursday, saying that if television license fees are collected separately from electricity bills, the public broadcasting business will “immediately face a crisis.”

“If the separation is made, public broadcasting will immediately face a crisis of existence and that will have considerable repercussions on our society,” said Oh Seong-il, executive director of license fees at KBS. “If the financial resources of public broadcasting become weak, actual profit from content will greatly decrease, and we estimate that if the proposed separation is made profits will drop by less than half.”

Collecting television license fees and electricity bills together is to increase social efficiency, further argued Choi Sun-wook, chief strategy officer (CSO) at KBS.

“Other countries also collect public broadcasters’ television license fees through power companies, because it does not require extra manpower or cost,” said Choi. “If fees are collected separately, that will incur additional costs in itself. KBS serves an important role in providing perspectives regarding national security and public interest, and this should be reserved.”

“The cost of operating KBS is about 1.4 trillion won [$1.07 billion] to 1.5 trillion won, and license fees take up 45 percent of this,” continued Choi. “If a separation in collecting license fees happens, KBS has to compete with general media companies in order to use commercial resources realistically. It is necessary to publicize and discuss how capacity and resources are to be divided in doling out roles of public and commercial broadcasters.”

The Korean government started collecting television license fees in 1963, two years after KBS was founded in 1961. Starting at 100 won ($0.09) per month, the price was raised to 150 won in 1964, 200 won in 1965 and eventually reached 2,500 won which is the current fee in 1981. The price has not been raised in 40 years and KBS called for a hike to the fee last year.

KBS announced a proposal to raise television license fees from 2,500 won to 3,800 won in January last year through its board of directors, claiming that a hike in fees is necessary to ensure the quality of broadcasting and that a hike is “inevitable.” President Yang Seung-dong of KBS announced a goal of “television license fee realization” during his New Year’s address.

Comparing KBS’s television license fee to fees collected by national broadcasters of other countries, it is very, very low. As of 2023, Britain’s BBC collects 159 pounds ($193) annually, which is 7 times higher than the Korean annual fee of 30,000 won, while Germany’s ZDF collects 9 times the amount at 220 euros ($236) and France’s FT collected 5 times the amount at 138 euros. There are 50 countries around the world that collect license fees, according to KBS.